Friday, December 31, 2021

Do the right thing - It will satisfy some and astonish the rest


Walkable, carless, pro-social, and safe. What do future neighborhoods look like?

by Gregory Saville

With apologies to Mark Twain, that quote above is what came to mind as 2021 ends. Such a turbulent year with so many distractions – Covid, mass shootings, increasing crime, social unrest! It’s hard to look back through the lens of the 24-hour news cycle and social media and not conclude that we are going to hell in a handbasket.

Do yourself a solid and have a read of Bailey and Tupy’s exceptional book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know. They use those increasingly rare things called facts to soundly debunk the doom-and-gloom-is-everywhere theory.

Bailey and Tupey's book Ten Global Trends - using research and facts to tell the truth. 

When you've read Global Trends, (and after you mask up, vaccinate, and elect better politicians with better policies), then give a thought to doing the right thing for safety in 2022 and learn some state-of-the-art theories in neighborhood crime prevention. There are a few good ones to pick from, but be careful - some only go halfway. 

Here are a few to watch:


In the 1970s they created electric car alarms to cut auto theft. You know, those pulsing lights and blaring horn alarms (BLEEP...BLEEP...BLEEP) that, nowadays, most people just ignore.

Around the 1980s, they created The Club to lock a steering wheel so thieves could not drive the car. Unfortunately, thieves adapted and learned to hacksaw the steering wheel and slide The Club off. One thief said: “So if it takes 60 seconds to steal a car, it now takes 90.”

The Club auto theft prevention device - photo Wiki Creative Commons

In the 1990s auto manufacturers adopted another situational crime prevention approach to harden the target. They created vehicle immobilizers, electronic devices that prevent a car engine from starting until a proper key transponder is present. Immobilizers prevent hot wiring and also eliminate that annoying BLEEP...BLEEP...BLEEP.

What is the result of situational crime prevention?

Some criminologists say the increasing adoption of security technologies has cut crime opportunities all over the world. Crime everywhere has decreased and auto theft has plummeted, as you can see on the graph.

Auto theft rates sunk as theft devices were adopted...

Except, there are a few glaring problems with this theory. First, not all crime rates around the world have declined in spite of more security technology! (Latin America comes to mind). 

Second, consider this...

...up until the past decade when rates began increasing.

Even with improvements to auto theft prevention, decade after decade, in the past ten years auto theft rates have NOT declined. In fact, they have started to increase! Look at the reality in the chart above of the past 10 years! How can this be? Security technologies have not vanished.  

Why are auto theft rates increasing? Perhaps the situational prevention theory spends so much time hacking at the branches of crime opportunity, it missed digging at the roots of crime causation?


Consider another recent prevention theory - focused deterrence, also known as CVI (community violence interrupters). I blogged on this promising strategy a few weeks ago.

Most modern crime prevention strategies zoom down from the level of the
entire city into specific areas (SafeGrowth), specific situations (situational prevention), or specific offenders (focused deterrence)

In a 2019 article, "There is no such thing as a dangerous neighborhood",  Stephen Lurie says we should not fix broken neighborhoods but rather target the small group of chronic offenders in those neighborhoods who cause most problems. That is how CVI intervenes in the cycle of violence. Says Lurie:

"The notion that public disorder drives criminality can seem an intuitive approach to public safety. But if people understand that most serious violence circles specific interpersonal group dynamics in structurally disadvantaged communities, order maintenance policing seems more like what study after study shows it is: an unnecessary evil."

Regrettably, permanently resolving a complex crime problem is not as simple as intervening with the offender before they rob or shoot. As the late Desmond Tutu warned, "There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in."  

No doubt we need to do something fast when violence threatens and that is something at which situational prevention and focused deterrence both excel. But there is no hiding the fact that they both hack at the branches - neither one alters structurally disadvantaged communities in any meaningful way. 

Criminologists will tell you there are many seeds to crime causation. But over a half-century of criminological research amply demonstrates that the dysfunction, trauma, substance abuse, and blight in disadvantaged communities provide the breeding ground from where most chronic offenders emerge in the first place. Severely disadvantaged places create an endless supply of chronic offenders and if we want to dig at the roots of crime, and not hack at the branches, we must face those structural disadvantages. That is from where hope emerges and that is how we do the right thing.  


Some criminologists and law enforcement officials will complain that it is exceedingly difficult, (and takes a long time) to deal with deep structural problems in neighborhoods. Part of that is because the expertise and professions that deal with such problems are not found within criminology or law enforcement. They are found in economic development, urban planning, neuropsychology, cognitive science, and education. 

That is why SafeGrowth practitioners collaborate with experts in all those different fields and then work with residents to co-develop prevention plans. This kind of deep-dive capacity-building is neither simple nor fast. Ultimately, SafeGrowth marries community development and social prevention with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Generation CPTED. The method has been successful for decades. Our SafeGrowth book describes how we keep our eyes on the real prize. 

A few other recent examples:

These are only a few of many ways forward. In 2022 let’s do the right thing and not lose sight of the fact that, if we want to build a better society, we actually have to build a better neighborhood.

Happy New Year. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

"It takes the whole village to raise this community"

Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Bridge
Skyline views at night mask the reality of neighbourhood life 
- photo Jeffrey Phillips Freeman Creative Commons Wiki

by Mateja Mihinjac

At a time when a rising tide of violent crime infects Philadelphia and so many other American cities, one small pocket in that city has discovered a different way forward. A few weeks ago, community teams from the HACE Livability Academy presented preliminary plans for improving livability in their neighborhood. It was like an early holiday gift to their city and their neighborhoods and I was enormously impressed with their plans. 

The HACE SafeGrowth Livability Academy has been underway in the Fairhill and Kensington neighborhoods for a few years and – although applied only to these two neighborhoods and severely challenged by the COVID pandemic – academy classes continued unabated thanks to the amazing work of HACE, the non-profit community development organization.

COVID has made life miserable for community development work. In 2020, we were forced to suddenly transition to a virtual environment that was not conducive to collaborative workshops. But a year later we’ve managed to better adapt to this new reality. Training from afar is not ideal, but the virtual environment does have advantages and we can now reach a wider audience.


Over the past two months, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating the latest online cohort of HACE Livability Academy participants. 

HACE has been successfully running Livability Academies twice a year since 2018. Last year, the HACE team modified the curriculum to run virtual-only sessions. This year we were able to offer both face-to-face and virtual modalities. 

The Livability Academy is a 6–8-week program developed by AlterNation LLC  – the company behind SafeGrowth® – in which local residents and community representatives learn skills in community leadership, SafeGrowth and CPTED, community organizing, and project management.

The Livability Academy is an integral part of the SafeGrowth philosophy and it provides a constant flow of community leaders into neighbourhood problem-solving teams to address local issues. I found it empowering to see the kinds of complex issues that the latest cohort decided to tackle in their project work. 

Team project planning from a previous Philadelphia Livability Academy class


During training, participants identify an issue and in work teams they tackle a small-scale, real-life project in their neighbourhood. In this training, the in-person, face-to-face team produced one project proposal while the online virtual team chose to divide into two project teams. 

This past week all three teams presented their preliminary plans of the work they’ve done over the past few months. All three teams created inspiring projects directly within their neighborhood and they tackled persistent problems that were made worse during COVID.

Cover of the project report from the Fairhill United for Livability team

Fairhill United for Livability 

The first team’s project focused on activating the neighbourhood park to create a space for people to come together and build connections. They envisioned a more united neighbourhood that fosters community pride, strengthens connections between residents, and partners with neighbourhood groups, schools, and businesses to promote livability. 

They divided their plan into 3 phases over the next year: outreach, clean-ups, and community celebrations. The goal is to create a movement of people to fix broken social connections, a problem made far worse by COVID. The team concluded with their slogan: “No one can do alone what we can do together”.

Literally Literacy (Increasing Adult Literacy)

This team chose adult literacy as a key liveability issue. They identified low levels of literacy as a key barrier to job access, high earning potential, and access to better healthcare. Illiteracy is one of the major contributors to overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Illiteracy is an obstacle to personal growth and this team decided to do something. The main objective of the project is to empower adults to seek assistance with reading and increase their self-esteem while eliminating the stigma associated with illiteracy. 

Data from the Literacy team's research project

The highlight of this team’s presentation was their inspirational personal stories. 

  • One member shared how her aunt learned to read late in life because she was unable to visit school as she had to prioritise caring for her family. 
  • Another member shared the experience of returning to college in her senior years and helped her expand her knowledge and reading capabilities. 
  • Another member recollected how it was once illegal for African Americans to read and she had to self-learn how to read. 
  • Finally, one member shared a story about how she remained a single young mother when she left her illiterate partner who was unable to provide for the family aside from selling drugs. 

They summarized their stories with the phrase: “You can be all that you can be; all you have to do is take the first step.”

Teen Trauma

This team focused on the struggles of youth that (if not addressed early) can cause long-term damage to a young person’s life and the neighbourhood quality of life. They outlined multiple consequences of trauma such as emotional and behavioural issues, internalised stress, engaging in unsafe behaviours, substance abuse, and mental illness. 

They proposed a 6-week program with various topics to address traumatic events. They also proposed creating a safe space with a support group for teens experiencing trauma. Two young team members, who themselves went through traumatic events, were especially inspiring in their quest to help their peers turn a new leaf. The team summarised the objective of their program: “To go from dysfunction to function.”

Research chart on trauma from the Teen Trauma team


I was extremely proud of all three teams for the work they completed within this short time. It is amazing how a group of people who know little, if anything, about each other, were able to take steps together and share the common purpose of improving life in their neighbourhood. 

This is the true spirit of SafeGrowth and the Livability Academy. There is no better holiday gift to Philadelphia, to their community, and to themselves.

As one Livability Academy participant concluded: “It takes the whole village to raise this community.”

Congrats to Philadelphia's 2021 HACE Livability Academy grads!
(photo courtesy of Sierra Cuellar)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

New era for neighbourhoods - The latest in 3rd Generation CPTED

Cities in the future need safe, liveable and thriving neighbourhoods -
3rd Generation CPTED provides the roadmap

by Mateja Mihinjac 

The birth of a new theory is not a straightforward matter, especially in social science or urban planning. A few years ago, when my co-author Greg Saville and I published our proposal for a Third Generation CPTED in the research journal, Social Sciences, we built on a decade of theories in crime prevention, including our own work in SafeGrowth. We described how, for over 60 years, theoreticians and practitioners learned how to prevent crime using the natural and built physical environment (1st Generation CPTED), and then in the late 1990s added social strategies to that local prescription (2nd Generation CPTED). 

Over the past decade, our cities and neighbourhoods faced new and unprecedented challenges that demand that we think in a much more integrated way about safety. 

In 2019 we presented Third Generation CPTED as that new integrated approach. 

We built this theory on the premise that it is not sufficient to consider CPTED apart from the idea of liveability if we want a better quality of life within neighbourhoods. Our neighbourhoods – our core units of life, work and play – must offer opportunities for satisfying not only our basic needs (what psychologist Abraham Maslow called our physiological and safety needs) but also our needs at the medium and higher levels – needs of self-esteem and self-actualization. This is known as Maslow’s human needs hierarchy pyramid. 

Our theory translated that pyramid into a hierarchy of liveable neighbourhoods, and our 3rd Generation CPTED was the key to elevating our quality of life. 

Neighbourhood liveability hierarchy and corresponding liveability outcomes

After the past few years of additional development, we presented the full model at the recent International CPTED Association international conference. This latest version of the theory will also appear in a forthcoming academic publication. 

The most recent advances in this theory include the following 4 S strategies for achieving those liveability outcomes.


I first introduced the 4 S strategies in a blog several months ago. Here I will describe some specifics for practitioners.

Liveability and sustainability are intrinsically linked. Some scholars say that communities cannot be sustainable unless people want to live in them and people need to have a say in identifying their preferences to ensure long-term environmental, economic and social impacts. This is the whole point to sustainability and so within 3rd Generation CPTED, we have four sustainability strategies. 

Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability is the most frequent topic discussed in relation to urban development, safety, and liveability. Evidence shows a strong link between environmental stressors (heat islands, lack of greenery, long-distance travel) and crime. Third Generation CPTED practitioners will apply tactics that help improve environmental liveability, such as the greening of neighbourhoods, greening of vacant lots to reduce crime, and building on local assets.

Social sustainability

Social sustainability points to people-focused design and it promotes opportunities for social interaction and collaboration, such as pedestrian infrastructure, gathering places, and Third Places.

It includes building a physical “command centre” – or neighbourhood hub – for local decision-making. An early version of neighbourhood hubs was described in an earlier SafeGrowth blog.

The goal of social sustainability is social cohesion and resilience through grassroots urban design where the residents have direct influence and stewardship over the local neighbourhood. Social sustainability can help prevent the seeds of criminality from taking root before they become unmanageable. SafeGrowth offers one such approach. 

Graduates from SafeGrowth - local residents, police and others learning in Helsingborg.
Projects included a youth activity centre and intercultural gathering places for fostering cohesion. 

Economic sustainability

Research continually shows the indisputable relationship between income inequality, disadvantage and crime. Focusing on the immediate economy through investment in neighbourhood infrastructure and economic development is one antidote to some of the issues that are endemic to crime. Third Generation practitioners, residents and business partners can use tactics such as local partnerships, a focus on local creativity, and business incubation.

Practitioners can also implement tailored employment transition and reintegration programs for those with a criminal history so they don’t fall back into habits of gang membership, violence, and drug abuse. Neighbourhood economic sustainability has a direct impact on breaking the cycle of criminal recidivism.

From our ICA conference presentation - all styles of CPTED and urban development should move toward advanced neighbourhoods of a high quality-of-life 

Public health sustainability

Public health sustainability refers to enduring physical and emotional health. At a time of Covid, it seems redundant to make this point, but the fact is that urban design and social cohesion are correlated with outdoor pedestrian movements, the use of physical infrastructure, the perception of safety and trust among neighbourhood residents. Those are not only part of public health but they are part of the psychology that can trigger, or mitigate, crime motives. 

Residents should have opportunities to co-create neighbourhood plans for amenities to promote health. In particular, these include amenities such as testing facilities and counselling to monitor unchecked trauma experienced by children during their formative years. Neighbourhood and family trauma, such as substance abuse, violence, and social dysfunction, have a direct impact on offending behaviour and violence, especially in later years.  We have written about similar issues such as suicide prevention in prior blogs. 

Emotional intelligence programs, perhaps offered at neighbourhood hubs, offer a great tool for assisting both young people and adults to learn self-awareness tactics, mindfulness skills and pro-social behaviours. Third Generation provides CPTED with a way to remove some of the breeding grounds for future criminal behaviour in a way that better lighting and access controls cannot accomplish.

Physical infrastructure and urban design should be conducive to fun physical opportunities


Third Generation CPTED is obviously much more complex than basic CPTED tactics. Practitioners need a wider set of competencies and collaborative methods and forums for discussing and deploying such an integrated approach. 

It extends beyond simple opportunities for crime - not that there is anything wrong with cutting crime opportunities! Rather, and more to the point, 1st Generation CPTED is simply insufficient in the contemporary 21st Century neighbourhood if we want a higher quality of life in the long term.

The 4 S strategies amalgamate crime prevention, safety with neighbourhood liveability. Third Generation CPTED offers strategies so that we can realise many of our long-term, highest level, personal needs within our own neighbourhoods. Most importantly, by extending the discourse of public safety and crime prevention beyond the focus on crime, we can create opportunities for a different kind of neighbourhood in which residents will not only survive but thrive.